The 600 MHz Countdown

September 6, 2017 by Ben Stowe, CTS

If you use a microphone, wireless speaker system, wireless video system or any other device operating in the 600 MHz band the clock is running out for reliable use of that system. The FCC has stated that we must vacate that band by July of 2020, but for some counties it must be sooner.

When the FCC forward auction was complete and the spectrum repack plan announced, it was widely believed that we would have plenty of time to adjust. This was based on historical repacks and conventional knowledge. It stands to reason that a company that calls itself the “Un-carrier” would be anything but conventional. T-Mobile is already lighting up sites with 600 MHz coverage, even though it doesn’t have a phone to use with them at the moment. That’s not far behind though, they have announced the LG V30 will be arriving in the US this fall.

While we don’t have an exact plan from T-Mobile, they state in their newsroom that they are “Working closely with the FCC and broadcasters like PBS to clear the spectrum in record time”, and have already turned on towers in Cheyenne, WY. To the best of our abilities, frequency coordinators have been working with T-Mobile to understand when and where their towers will go on. These changes impact not only DJs, but also college football teams, broadcasters, theater, churches, tours and anyone else that uses 600 MHz wireless equipment. While T-Mobile has to work with broadcasters who are moving their licensed blocks of the spectrum before turning on towers, they don’t owe any such courtesy to the above mentioned groups, DJs included. These users are unlicensed, and as such are essentially “guests” in that spectrum and are no longer welcome.

To clarify the FCC’s stated 39 month timeline, that is the LONGEST that we are allowed to stick around, but the need to move is sooner when T-Mobile clears the band in your area and turns on towers. You could still find a good chunk of usable 600 MHz in the “uplink” blocks (663 to 698 MHz), which would be occupied by handsets transmitting to the tower since there currently aren’t any 600 MHz handsets. You may even find open space after those phones arrive this fall, but it would certainly be risky to try to operate a wireless in a ballroom where a few hundred guests may arrive, some with those new 5G phones. If you are in the “downlink” block (617 to 652 MHz) you would be promptly smashed by the transmission from the T-Mobile towers, so trying to compete with that is a bad plan.

After reviewing FIPS data sent to BAS users by T-Mobile, my colleague Jason Eskew has prepared this map for me, showing where we anticipate T-Mobile towers to be turned on around November 1st, and it appears to be in areas where moving existing TV doesn’t have to happen. The rollout will likely slow after that, although it is crucial for T-Mobile to roll these out as quickly as possible to capitalize on their $8 billion investment in the bandwidth.

The best plan for us is to move, and now is maybe the best time economically.   Several manufacturers are offering aggressive rebates to entice customers to trade-in their 600 MHz equipment for one of their new systems, and the American Disc Jockey Association has announced a stunning deal on wireless systems in partnership with Audix and NLFX Professional. (Full Disclosure: I am employed by NLFX Professional).

Ben Stowe, CTS Ben Stowe, CTS (26 Posts)

Ben’s love of electronics and technology led to years of schooling in Electricity, Electronics, Robotics and Lasers. Ben supported himself through school by building and selling strobe lights and other electronic devices. He built his first DJ show largely from scratch and scrap, often repairing broken items others had thrown away because he could not afford to buy new equipment. He holds a Minnesota electrical license, and his AV installs have been featured in almost every major industry trade magazine. His relentless passion for education has led to a number of other certifications and accreditations, including the most widely recognized one in the AV industry, the InfoComm CTS. His love for education inspired him to begin the ProAcademy educational sessions, focused on increasing understanding of AV technologies within the industry. Ben has been involved in a number of technical writings, lectures, presentations, as well as research and development assistance with a number of manufacturers for products, industry wide. He is also a regular contributing author to industry magazines in the United States and Europe. Ben’s presentations have been featured across the world both as a part of industry leading trade shows, and as a presenter for various groups and functions. Some of these events include BPM in the United Kingdom, Mobile Beat, the ADJA National Convention, Wedding MBA, and a national tour as a headlining presenter for an industry magazine. The United States Armed Forces branches have also called upon Ben to provide engineering and training assistance. His highly informational, slightly nerdy and always funny presentation style have made him a favorite at events, while his sincere desire to help people with their application of technology have made him a favorite with them after the event. Ben serves the industry as the President of NLFX Professional, an industry leading supplier of sound, lighting and video systems, a role he has maintained since founding the company in 1993.

Filed Under: Mobile DJ Equipment